Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Chang

Chang
Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, the silent film made "in the Jungles of Northern Siam" by the directors of King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack), was an early feature-length documentary released in 1927. Like Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North, and other documentaries of the period, it combines real locations with staged events. (It also shows the autobiographical nature of the Carl Denham character in King Kong who, like Cooper, made melodramatic documentaries in exotic locations.)

Chang was last shown here as part of Bangkok Bananas in 2009, with music performed by a live orchestra. It will be shown again on 25th February at the National Film Archive in Salaya, also with a live orchestral soundtrack, and the screening is free.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

"Talk shows play a formative role
in shaping public debate in Egypt..."

Tapes Reveal Tacit Acceptance By Arabs of Jerusalem Decision
Egypt's state prosecutor is set to press criminal charges against The New York Times, after it reported that the Egyptian intelligence service had attempted to influence television coverage of America's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In an article published on 7th January, headlined "Tapes Reveal Tacit Acceptance By Arabs of Jerusalem Decision", David D. Kirkpatrick wrote that an intelligence officer, Ashraf al-Kholi, had telephoned four TV presenters asking them to play down any negative reaction to the US policy. (The article also appeared in the international edition, on 8th January.)

The article quoted one of the TV hosts, Azmi Megahed, who confirmed that the recordings were genuine. Kirkpatrick also explained the significance of the calls: "Television talk shows play a formative role in shaping public debate in Egypt, and Egyptian intelligence services often brief the presenters of the programs about messages to convey to the public. The hosts typically prefer to characterize the conversations as journalists talking to sources."

PDF

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Pen-ek Retrospective

Pen-ek Retrospective
Monrak Transistor
Fun Bar Karaoke
6ixtynin9
Nymph
Paradoxocracy
Ploy
Headshot
You wait twenty years for a Pen-ek Ratanaruang retrospective, and then two come along at once. Cinema Journey 20 ปี ภาพยนตร์เป็นเอก, a complete retrospective of Pen-ek's films, is being held at various venues in Bangkok this month. At the same time, Bangkok's Alliance Française is hosting Pen-ek Retrospective, its own season of his films.

Alliance Française will be showing seven films. Pen-ek will introduce Monrak Transistor (มนต์รักทรานซิสเตอร์) on 19th January. There will be a double bill of Fun Bar Karaoke (ฝันบ้าคาราโอเกะ) and 6ixtynin9 (เรื่องตลก 69) on 20th January. Nymph (นางไม้) is showing on 23rd January, Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) on 25th January, and Ploy (พลอย) on 26th January. Finally, Pen-ek will introduce Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า) on 27th January, as part of the Echoes of French Cinema season.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Fall Out

Fall Out
Fall Out: A Year of Political Mayhem is Tim Shipman's sequel to All Out War, his definitive account of the Brexit referendum. Fall Out covers the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the first stage of the European Union negotiations, and the disastrous 2017 general election. Shipman, political editor of The Sunday Times, is arguably the most well-connected political correspondent in the UK: his coverage of the Conservative government is as gripping as Andrew Rawnsley's accounts of the New Labour era (Servants of the People and The End of the Party). His off-the-record sources include thirteen cabinet ministers.

Chapter titles such as "Brexit Means Brexit" and "Strong and Stable" reveal how much Prime Minister Theresa May has relied on repeating brief, vague soundbites instead of fully explaining her policies. Shipman portrays her as a PM driven by personal conviction though out of her depth. May is the book's central figure, though Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, her joint chiefs of staff, are another major element of the drama: "This is a play with many actors, but overwhelmingly it is the story of those three people and how they took charge of the most complex political conundrum since the Second World War".

After the Tories lost their parliamentary majority, it was only the resignations of Timothy and Hill that prevented a party coup against May's leadership. Shipman's book reveals in some detail why the two chiefs were so disliked; their nickname for Chancellor Philip Hammond, for example, was "The Cunt". One source tells Shipman: "they would say things like, "You're a posh cunt," and "No, you're a posher cunt." "Who is the poshest cunt of the lot?" This is a conversation between Nick and Fi, and I looked across at the prime minister, thinking, "Do you think this is all right?" There was not a glimmer."

In the immediate aftermath of the election, everything was up in the air: "May's future as prime minister hung in the balance as cabinet ministers contacted each other". Cabinet members were all mutually suspicious, May most of all: "She called Boris Johnson and formally asked, 'Do you intend to stand against me?'" The Chancellor was equally paranoid: "Hammond put her on the spot: 'You were going to sack me, weren't you?'" Shipman writes that Grant Shapps' attempted coup was aborted, though it had gathered steam following May's 2017 party conference speech: "One day after May's meltdown, three members of her cabinet decided her time was up."

Fall Out was published last November, and in that same month two cabinet ministers (Priti Patel and Michael Fallon) were forced to resign. Another, May's closest political ally (Damian Green), quit a month later. The fallout continues.

Friday, 5 January 2018

World Class Cinema

World Class Cinema
Cleopatra
The Godfather
The Godfather II
The World Class Cinema season will return this year with a new lineup of Hollywood classics. The first screening of the new season will be Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, on 14th January. Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, starring Marlon Brando, will be screened on 11th February; its sequel, The Godfather II, starring Robert de Niro, is on 18th February. All screenings will be at Bangkok's Scala cinema.

The Governance of China II

The Governance of China II
The Governance of China II (谈治国理政 第二卷), published last November, is the second volume of Chinese President Xi Jinping's speeches, featuring transcripts of his public statements delivered between August 2014 and September last year. (Thus, his major speech at the Communist party congress last October is not included.)

It follows the same format as the first volume, published in 2014; even the cover is identical. The only difference is that the 'cult of personality' aspect of the first volume (a hagiographic biography of Xi) is not repeated in the sequel. The first volume was published simultaneously in nine languages, though the new edition is available only in Chinese and English.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Fire and Fury

Fire and Fury
President Donald Trump has attempted to prevent the publication of Michael Wolff's forthcoming book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. The book was due to be released on 9th January, though it will be published four days early in defiance of Trump's legal threat. The publicity has already made it a bestseller.

According to Wolff's book, Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, predicted that Trump's eldest son would be one of the casualties of the Special Counsel investigation into collusion with Russia: "They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV." In response, Trump issued a White House statement attacking Bannon: "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."

Wolff also quotes Rupert Murdoch describing Trump as a "fucking idiot," echoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's earlier comment that Trump is a "fucking moron". (Wolff wrote an authorised biography of Murdoch, The Man Who Owns the News.) His writing has been the subject of a previous legal dispute: GQ magazine was fined £10 thousand after one of his articles was found to be in contempt of court.

A cease-and-desist letter, addressed to Wolff and his publisher, was issued by Trump's lawyers today. It claims: "Your publication of the false/baseless statements about Mr. Trump gives rise to, among other claims, defamation by libel". (Trump lies every day, in his tweets and interviews, making his legal action deeply ironic.) The letter also states: "Mr. Trump hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the Book".

Following a 1964 Supreme Court decision, libel against public figures requires proof of 'actual malice', and Trump's lawyer attempts to argue that Wolff's book constitutes this: "Actual malice (reckless disregard for the truth) can be proven by the fact that the Book admits in the Introduction that it contains untrue statements." This is a reference to Wolff's explanation for the book's contradictory accounts of some events: "I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them."

A libel case is inconceivable, though Wolff's characteristically gossipy book does include plenty of uncorroborated claims. At times, it also misleads the reader: Wolff describes a "dinner arranged by mutual friends in a Greenwich Village town house", though the house in question was Wolff's own home. Later, he quotes from one of Trump's "unsolicited phone calls without presumption of confidentiality to a passing New York media acquaintance"; the unnamed acquaintance was Wolff himself, and his definition of "confidentiality" is somewhat malleable. He also overstates and obfuscates the extent of his on-the-record access to Trump, which was mostly confined to before the inauguration.

Trump's lawyer is Charles Harder, who also represented Melania Trump in her libel action against the Daily Mail. (She won $3 million in damages.) Previously, Harder represented Hulk Hogan when he successfully sued Gawker for invasion of privacy, winning $140 million in damages and bankrupting the website.

Words into Shapes

Words into Shapes
Calligrammes
Words into Shapes: The Graphic Art of Calligram, by Daniele Tozzi, profiles fourteen contemporary illustrators (including Tozzi himself) who create calligrams. The book begins with a brief historical introduction, which includes the famous mouse's tail from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and several examples from Guillaume Apollinaire's book Calligrammes.

Words into Shapes was written in Italian, and translated into English and Spanish. Translation is sometimes an inexact art, as Umberto Eco noted in his book Mouse or Rat?, and Words into Shapes illustrates Eco's point precisely by mistranslating Carroll's "Mouse's tail" as "rat's tail".

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Cinema Journey 20 ปี ภาพยนตร์เป็นเอก

Cinema Journey 20 ปี ภาพยนตร์เป็นเอก
Cinema Journey 20 ปี ภาพยนตร์เป็นเอก
Monrak Transistor
Fun Bar Karaoke
6ixtynin9
Nymph
Paradoxocracy
Ploy
Headshot
Last Life in the Universe
Invisible Waves
Cinema Journey 20 ปี ภาพยนตร์เป็นเอก, celebrating Pen-ek Ratanaruang's twenty-year career as a director, will take place later this month at three venues in Bangkok. The season begins at Warehouse 30 with Doc Theater Club's B-Side of Pen-ek, a weekend of music videos, commercials, short films, and the political documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) introduced by Pen-ek.

Pen-ek discussed the censorship of Paradoxocracy with me in 2014: "half of the footage that we have, you can't show to people. You'll just have to bury it in the ground somewhere." It will be screened on 13th January, and B-Side of Pen-ek continues on 14th January at the same venue. A complete retrospective of Pen-ek's feature films will take place at the Jam Factory on 21st and 22nd January, and House Rama on 27th and 28th January. (Alliance Française is hosting its own Pen-ek retrospective this month, too.)

House RCA will be screening Invisible Waves
(คำพิพากษาของมหาสมุทร), Nymph (นางไม้), and Fun Bar Karaoke (ฝันบ้าคาราโอเกะ) on 27th January; and Ploy (พลอย), 6ixtynin9 (เรื่องตลก 69), and Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า) on 28th January. Monrak Transistor (มนต์รักทรานซิสเตอร์)
and Last Life in the Universe (เรื่องรัก น้อยนิด มหาศาล) will be shown on both days. Monrak Transistor, Nymph, Funbar Karaoke, 6ixtynin9, and Headshot will be screened in 35mm.

Bangkok Screening Room

Ploy
After showing two of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's films last year, 6ixtynin9 (เรื่องตลก 69) and Fun Bar Karaoke (ฝันบ้าคาราโอเกะ), Bangkok Screening Room is now showing a third, Ploy (พลอย). Ploy opened on Boxing day, and will be shown on 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th, 12, and 14th January. The screenings coincide with Cinema Journey 20 ปี ภาพยนตร์เป็นเอก, a retrospective celebrating Pen-ek's twenty-year career as a director. His other films include Nymph (นางไม้), Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), and Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย).

I interviewed Pen-ek in 2014, and he discussed the censorship of Ploy ("the cinemas were crawling with police!"), though he also said that he regarded it as his best film: "It's one of the rare films that I can actually achieve something closer to what I aimed at. Normally, you aim here [holds hand up high] but you achieve here [holds hand down low], but nobody knows. I think Ploy was actually the film that I liked the most."